words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Bits & Beasts for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2015.
Feist is an atmospheric physics-based platformer starring a creature who must make his way through a dark and hostile landscape filled with dangerous beasts and deadly traps. The game is presented in a silhouette style, inviting the inevitable comparison to Limbo, although gameplay is quite different. The story is also far less heavy, and the overall presentation not as dreary... offering subdued greens, blues, and, yellows, and much less haze and fog.

At the start of the game, the player character is trapped in a wooden box that is hanging from a tree. By swinging the box back and forth, the rope eventually breaks and sends it falling downward. However, the box remains intact upon contact with the ground, and the creature within must roll the box down a slope and jump in order to make its way over obstacles. Eventually, the box reaches a steep hill where it tumbles down and builds up speed, smashing open at the bottom and revealing a short hairy creature.

Physics are applied to all of the game’s objects, allowing players to push logs along the ground, roll pinecones end-over-end, and send rocks rolling down hills. The player is equipped with a floaty 3x jump, as well as the ability to pick up and throw small objects, and push heavier objects.

When combined with physics-based obstacles, such as leaning tree branches that droop underfoot, environmental navigation is a bit imprecise, leading to situations where players may need to attempt jumps multiple times in order for timing and physics to align for the desired results. Similarly, it can be difficult to line up targets when tossing rocks or pinecones – although it’s fairly easy to smack them with sticks – making for some rather inexact combat.

The action in Feist is split equally between physics-based platforming and combat, with a handful of occasions where players must deal with enemies while also navigating a complex environment. Most enemies are spiked and hurt the player with contact damage, and these enemies may be dispatched by hitting them with rocks or sticks… or often by avoiding them entirely. Crawling enemies may be made to move out of your way by tossing pinecones at them, and many hovering enemies will only attack when you move directly beneath them.

That said, there are a number of relentless creatures that will pursue you through the environment, including fast-moving flies, slow hopping ticks, and hovering balls of light. Flies are difficult to deal with because they frequently spit spikes in your direction, and they can hit you from a long distance. However, it is possible to jump and grab a fly out of the air, whereupon you can turn its spike-spitting powers against your enemies.

Ticks first appear in the caves and will chase you all over the environment, hopping toward you a bit at a time, and sticking to walls, ceilings, and even to the sides of hanging crates, making it difficult to avoid them. Ticks often appear in large numbers, making it impractical to engage them head-on, as sticks appear infrequently in the caves and they break in a single hit.

And then there are large hairy creatures with big noses that are considerably smarter than any of the other beasts you must face. These creatures are seen wandering through the forest during interstitial cutscenes, carrying spiked weapons and crates, and these are clearly the creatures who have been setting up traps to ensnare hapless wanderers such as yourself.

Interactions with these creatures act as boss encounters of sorts, requiring the player to defeat them in order to move on (in contrast to many regular enemies which may simply be avoided). The trouble is, these creatures are large, fast, and incredibly strong. They can smash you with their attacks or pick you up and toss you a great distance when you get too close… they’ll even pause to kill other creatures in their path. Given the imprecision in player movement and combat, dealing with these beasts can be quite difficult.

Additionally, a rather confusing design choice limits the player’s understanding of these creatures… The first time you face off against one, it appears to be completely oblivious to your attacks, reacting by becoming stunned for a moment and then resuming its pursuit. The fact that neither you nor the creatures have any sort of life meter (aside from a bit of hair frazzling) makes it impossible to determine how much damage is being caused – and occasionally leads to your unexpected death – which may lead the player to the understanding that these creatures are invincible.

Further supporting this notion is the fact that the first creature refuses to give chase into an area that features tripwires that set off wide sprays of insta-death spikes when triggered. However, by maneuvering the player character into a lower area, it is possible to lure the brute onto a log above you, setting off one of these traps to kill it instantly.

Since the creature’s death comes as a result of a scripted event, it is reasonable for the player to assume that a direct assault would have no effect, and there is no evidence to the contrary. A second of these creatures has the ability to teleport and it is possible for this creature to pick you up and carry you past the dead-end that is blocking your path, allowing you to escape it without direct combat.

However, on another occasion when you face one of these creatures, there is no apparent way to lure it to its doom, and no way to escape it, as the player runs into dead-ends in each direction. Even the endless onslaught of jumping ticks seem to have no effect on the creature… and this is because the player is meant to keep tossing rocks at it – with no indication that the creature is being weakened by these attacks – until it is destroyed, which (for reasons that are not apparent) sets off a cave-in, allowing the player to escape the area. Fortunately, checkpoints are frequent, so players are faced with very little repeated gameplay when they are defeated.

Despite the solid black color of the world around you, there is a fair amount of variety in the environments and how they are navigated. In the swampy region, low areas are mucky, slowing the player’s movement and reducing his jump height, and also making it difficult to escape spike-shooting flies.

Caves are dark with some sections that are pitch black – save for the eyes of the player character and any surrounding creatures – and there is a seemingly endless supply of ticks that move in from the darkness. The final areas are populated by giant trees, steep cliffs, and pits of spikes, requiring players to stick to the high road and manipulate objects to build stepping stones to reach high plateaus.

Players can use the environment to their advantage by tossing pinecones to trigger tripwires that launch spikes or drop heavy logs down onto unsuspecting enemies. Players can also roll large rocks downhill to crush enemies below. Enemies can even be lured into harming one other, as they are damaged by friendly fire.

In addition, there are a number of environmental puzzles to solve in order to move forward, but their physics-based nature makes solving them a bit slow and cumbersome. Puzzle solutions include stacking rocks to climb on, swinging back and forth on hanging objects, and one puzzle that has the player bouncing on a long rope to gain enough height to reach a raised platform.

Further illustrating the imprecision of the physics-based environments is a section where the player must gather sticky cockaburrs and toss them up against walls and branches, using them as direct stepping stones or to pull branches downward. Cockaburrs can be attached to any solid object, and to one another, but it is difficult to line up a toss that gives you the results you want without having to retrieve them and try again.

The game is very atmospheric with its silhouetted style, organic environments, nice particle effects, ambient noises, and its eerie and haunting soundtrack. The game’s characters and foregrounds are represented by 3D models – although this is not always apparent due to the game’s lack of depth – allowing for smooth animations, similar to the dark world of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

Feist was developed by Bits & Beasts, a studio based in Zurich, Switzerland and founded by Florian Faller and Adrian Stutz. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Tomek Kolczynski. While the studio was officially founded in 2013, development on Feist began years prior, beginning in 2008. The developers continued working in their full-time jobs, with work on the game taking place slowly on evenings and weekends. This was the studio’s first commercial release.

The game was published by Finji, which released Canabalt under their Semi Secret Software label, as well as the radar-based survival game, Capsule.